Tag Archives: Early Childhood Brain Development

‘Redshirting’ kindergarteners

5 Mar

Morley Safer of 60 Minutes reported the excellent story, Redshirting: Holding kids back from kindergarten:

Kindergarten “redshirting” is on the rise. That’s the practice of parents holding their children back from kindergarten so they can start school at age 6 – older, bigger, and more mature than their 5-year-old peers. Some research shows that redshirting will give these youngsters an edge in school, and maybe even in life. But is it fair? After all, as Morley Safer reports, boys are twice as likely to be held back as girls. Whites more than minorities. And the rich redshirt their kids more than the poor.


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Parents consider “redshirting” in the hope that they will give their children an advantage.

Tom Matlock writes in the Huffington Post article, Redshirting Kindergarten:

It reminded me of what a kindergarten teacher at a private school in Boston recently told me: “I was cornered by an applicant’s father who asked that if he sent his child to me in pre-K, could I promise that his child would get into to Harvard in 14 years.”

Most particularly it made me think of the increasing number of families who are holding back their sons at the age of five, particularly in private schools, in order to increase their competitive advantage, following, perhaps without knowing it consciously, the line of thinking that has been used to produce professional hockey players.

“I got paid $100 for that shot,” one of my players told me as we warmed up for our basketball game, referring to a close-range layup the prior week. No, I’m not an NBA coach. The player wasn’t referring to some elaborate point shaving scheme cooked up by would-be sports agents to high school prodigies. The player was six years old.

The kid’s parents had paid him to make a basket. I was floored. Speechless. He said it in passing like it didn’t really matter, like even he thought it was kind of weird.

Pretty soon the boys were laughing and chasing each other around cones I had set up, trying without much success to dribble the miniature balls while playing tag. Clearly, having fun was way more important to this kid than any parent’s $100 payout. But it stuck with me as a sign of something profoundly wrong with our generation of parents, and a potential danger to the generation of kids, especially boys, that we are raising.

It reminded me of what a kindergarten teacher at a private school in Boston recently told me: “I was cornered by an applicant’s father who asked that if he sent his child to me in pre-K, could I promise that his child would get into to Harvard in 14 years.”

Most particularly it made me think of the increasing number of families who are holding back their sons at the age of five, particularly in private schools, in order to increase their competitive advantage, following, perhaps without knowing it consciously, the line of thinking that has been used to produce professional hockey players.

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell discusses the odd distribution of birth months among NHL players. In Canada, youth hockey is a highly policed sport where players are registered strictly by calendar year. The oldest, therefore, at each level are those born earliest in the year. Just by virtue of age they tend to be bigger and stronger. Gladwell argues convincingly that a disproportionate number of successful hockey players end up being born in the first few months of the year (see graph below). This selection process starts as early as age 8, and the effect persists all the way up to the NHL. It has been very consistent over time.

So if it is true of youth hockey players in Canada why wouldn’t it be true of kindergarten boys in Boston, or San Francisco, whose parents are hoping they will grow up to be President one day. That makes sense right?

I asked one admissions officer what he says to the parents of boys entering kindergarten about the idea of holding their son back. He said, “I often tell parents that if allowing their children to be on the older end, rather than the younger end, results in any of the following: starting for a sports team as opposed to sitting on the bench; being one of the first to drive as opposed to one of the last (huge social advantage); the possibility they will be an A and B student as opposed to a B and C student; (for the dads) getting the girl or not getting the girl, then it is worth considering.” (All the sources for this article asked to remain anonymous given the sensitive nature of their day-to-day relationships with children and their parents.)

But a different admissions officer disagreed strongly: “The trend is disgusting, but it fits with any arms race or conflict cycle model. I’ve been wondering more broadly about what age we push kids through all the school factories. All they have in common is age and since they all develop at different ages, that system often makes little sense anyway.” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tom-matlack/redshirting-kindergarten_1_b_859824.html

There is a huge debate regarding “redshirting.”

Sam Wang, an associate professor of molecular biology and neuroscience at Princeton, Sandra Aamodt, a former editor in chief of Nature Neuroscience. Wang and Aamodt have written “Welcome to Your Child’s Brain: How the Mind Grows From Conception to College.” They have written an interesting New York Times opinion piece, Delay Kindergarten at Your Child’s Peril:

Teachers may encourage redshirting because more mature children are easier to handle in the classroom and initially produce better test scores than their younger classmates. In a class of 25, the average difference is equivalent to going from 13th place to 11th. This advantage fades by the end of elementary school, though, and disadvantages start to accumulate. In high school, redshirted children are less motivated and perform less well. By adulthood, they are no better off in wages or educational attainment — in fact, their lifetime earnings are reduced by one year.

In short, the analogy to athletics does not hold. The question we should ask instead is: What approach gives children the greatest opportunity to learn?

Parents who want to give their young children an academic advantage have a powerful tool: school itself. In a large-scale study at 26 Canadian elementary schools, first graders who were young for their year made considerably more progress in reading and math than kindergartners who were old for their year (but just two months younger). In another large study, the youngest fifth-graders scored a little lower than their classmates, but five points higher in verbal I.Q., on average, than fourth-graders of the same age. In other words, school makes children smarter.

The benefits of being younger are even greater for those who skip a grade, an option available to many high-achieving children. Compared with nonskippers of similar talent and motivation, these youngsters pursue advanced degrees and enter professional school more often. Acceleration is a powerful intervention, with effects on achievement that are twice as large as programs for the gifted. Grade-skippers even report more positive social and emotional feelings.

These differences may come from the increased challenges of a demanding environment. Learning is maximized not by getting all the answers right, but by making errors and correcting them quickly. In this respect, children benefit from being close to the limits of their ability. Too low an error rate becomes boring, while too high an error rate is unrewarding. A delay in school entry may therefore still be justified if children are very far behind their peers, leaving a gap too broad for school to allow effective learning.

Parents want to provide the best environment for their child, but delaying school is rarely the right approach. The first six years of life are a time of tremendous growth and change in the developing brain. Synapses, the connections between brain cells, are undergoing major reorganization. Indeed, a 4-year-old’s brain uses more energy than it ever will again. Brain development cannot be put on pause, so the critical question is how to provide the best possible context to support it.

For most children, that context is the classroom. Disadvantaged children have the most to lose from delayed access to school. For low-income children, every month of additional schooling closes one-tenth of the gap between them and more advantaged students. Even without redshirting, a national trend is afoot to move back the cutoff birthdays for the start of school. Since the early 1970s, the date has shifted by an average of six weeks, to about Oct. 14 from about Nov. 25. This has the effect of making children who would have been the youngest in one grade the oldest in the next-lower grade; it hurts children from low-income families the most.


Most parents no matter their class or ethnicity want to give their children a good start in life. A key building block to a solid education foundation is early childhood learning. There are many different considerations. The overall considerations should center on the quality of the early childhood learning and whether it meets the needs of the child. For some, those concerns take a back seat to whether the preschool is the “right” place rather than the appropriate place. “Right” meaning where the parents and child can mingle with the “right” sort or type or meet the parent’s definition of a successful life. The focus of my comment is to urge parents to look at what will in the long term make a happy, healthy, well adjusted child who is secure enough to take on the challenges of life. Nothing in life is guaranteed, even to the most well connected. How one copes with survival in a world that often presents challenges, which upend what people thought they knew, depends on internal fortitude and a sense of security.  


Kindergarten Redshirting http://www.education.com/topic/kindergarten-redshirting/

The Redshirting Debate Continues http://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/09/26/the-redshirting-debate-continues/

The Pros and Cons of Holding Out http://www.wceruw.org/news/coverStories/pros_cons_holding_out.php

Dr. Wilda says this about that ©

Jonathan Cohn’s ‘The Two Year Window’

18 Dec

Moi has got plenty to say about hypocrites of the conservative persuasion, those who espouse family values, but don’t live up to them or who support corporate welfare while tossing out that old bromide that individuals must pull themselves up by their bootstraps even if they don’t have shoes.

Because of changes in family structure and the fact that many children are now being raised by single parents, who often lack the time or resources to care for them, we as a society must make children and education a priority, even in a time of lack. I know that many of the conservative persuasion will harp on about personal responsibility, yada, yada, yada. Moi promotes birth control and condoms, so don’t harp on that. Fact is children, didn’t ask to be born to any particular parent or set of parents.

Jonathan Cohn reports about an unprecedented experiment which occurred in Romanian orphanages in the New Republic article, The Two Year Window. There are very few experiments involving humans because of ethical considerations.

Nelson had traveled to Romania to take part in a cutting-edge experiment. It was ten years after the fall of the Communist dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu, whose scheme for increasing the country’s population through bans on birth control and abortion had filled state-run institutions with children their parents couldn’t support. Images from the orphanages had prompted an outpouring of international aid and a rush from parents around the world to adopt the children. But ten years later, the new government remained convinced that the institutions were a good idea—and was still warehousing at least 60,000 kids, some of them born after the old regime’s fall, in facilities where many received almost no meaningful human interaction. With backing from the MacArthur Foundation, and help from a sympathetic Romanian official, Nelson and colleagues from Harvard, Tulane, and the University of Maryland prevailed upon the government to allow them to remove some of the children from the orphanages and place them with foster families. Then, the researchers would observe how they fared over time in comparison with the children still in the orphanages. They would also track a third set of children, who were with their original parents, as a control group.

In the field of child development, this study—now known as the Bucharest Early Intervention Project—was nearly unprecedented. Most such research is performed on animals, because it would be unethical to expose human subjects to neglect or abuse. But here the investigators were taking a group of children out of danger. The orphanages, moreover, provided a sufficiently large sample of kids, all from the same place and all raised in the same miserable conditions. The only variable would be the removal from the institutions, allowing researchers to isolate the effects of neglect on the brain….

Drury, Nelson, and their collaborators are still learning about the orphans. But one upshot of their work is already clear. Childhood adversity can damage the brain as surely as inhaling toxic substances or absorbing a blow to the head can. And after the age of two, much of that damage can be difficult to repair, even for children who go on to receive the nurturing they were denied in their early years. This is a revelation with profound implication—and not just for the Romanian orphans.

APPROXIMATELY SEVEN MILLION American infants, toddlers, and preschoolers get care from somebody other than a relative, whether through organized day care centers or more informal arrangements, according to the Census Bureau. And much of that care is not very good. One widely cited study of child care in four states, by researchers in Colorado, found that only 8 percent of infant care centers were of “good” or “excellent” quality, while 40 percent were “poor.” The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development has found that three in four infant caregivers provide only minimal cognitive and language stimulation—and that more than half of young children in non-maternal care receive “only some” or “hardly any” positive caregiving. http://www.tnr.com/article/economy/magazine/97268/the-two-year-window?page=0,0&passthru=YzBlNDJmMmRkZTliNDgwZDY4MDhhYmIwMjYyYzhlMjg

Because the ranks of poor children are growing in the U.S., this study portends some grave challenges not only for particular children, but this society and this country. Adequate early learning opportunities and adequate early parenting is essential for proper development in children.


Michael A. Fletcher reported in the Washington Post article, Nearly one in six in poverty in the U.S.; children hit hard, Census says:

The economic turmoil has pummeled children, for whom the poverty rate last year — 22 percent — was at the highest level since 1993. The rate for black children climbed to nearly 40 percent, and more than a third of Hispanic children lived in poverty, the Census Bureau reported. The rate for white children was reported as above 12 percent.


Cohn recognizes that in a time of economic distress it is difficult to call for massive spending on parent support and early learning programs, but that is what he says the implications of the Romanian study are if early damage to poor children is to be avoided. A conference where MIT was a participant described the economic benefit of early childhood programs NPR has an audio debate about the MIT report

Legislators are correct in their prudence about the budget, but the question is whether they are being, as the saying goes, “penny wise and pound foolish.” So much of economic development and full employment is based on an educated and skilled population. Third world countries are undeveloped for many reasons including unsustainable debt, corruption, and being disadvantaged in the world system of trade. One of the primary reasons that third world countries are third world is the limited education opportunity for the majority of their population.

Politics has always been a tough business, the Ides of March is one example of how brutal politics can be. Many times those who serve do so under tough conditions, often with little thanks. Still it is time to recognize that there must be some investments made for the future and early childhood programs are an example of necessary investment. Just as there are those who reflex ably say no to school choice, there are those who just as reflex ably say no to investing in this country’s future.

Cohn’s article is a must read.


The changing face of poverty
Millions of Americans live in poverty, more families are suffering and hunger is seen growing. (more)

Hard at work but can’t buy food
While the ranks of the working poor grow in number, should employers step up to stop the trend? (more)

Dr. Wilda says this about that ©